The baptism of Jesus by John the Baptizer is recorded in all four gospels. Each account of John’s ministry is different. All four gospels tell the story of Jesus. The differences in the gospels are differences in the manner which His story is told.
Matthew cites Jesus’ genealogy and His birth in the city of David prior to giving the account of Jesus’ baptism. Luke gives a detailed account of both John’s and Jesus’ birth before telling of Jesus’ baptism. Mark is different. Mark begins with the words of Malachi (Mal. 3:1) and Isaiah (Isa. 40:3) and immediately proceeds to tell of John’s ministry and Jesus’ baptism.
Matthew’s initial words target the ears of Jews who might argue that Jesus could not be the Messiah because He was of Nazareth. Luke, in addressing Theophilus, makes it known that he desires to establish the certainty of those things which Theophilus has been told concerning Jesus. Mark’s words shout out to all who have knowledge of that which the prophets had written pertaining to the coming of the Messiah. Mark addresses all who possessed knowledge of the scriptures and looked to the Messiah’s coming.
“John did baptize in the wilderness . . .” (v. 4). Baptism was practiced by the followers of Judaism. It is called “mikveh.” Followers made themselves ceremonially clean by immersing themselves in water. An individual would practice mikveh upon conversion to Judaism, after any time of impurity, and before holy feast days. Mikveh was practiced repeatedly throughout the course of one year. John’s baptism was different.
John preached the baptism of repentance. His message was: “Repent and be baptized.” One must repent before one’s sins can be washed away. John preached this message in the wilderness, a place unsuitable for human habitat. He was a voice of one crying in the wilderness. He was a picture of Isaiah 40:3. John’s apparel, camel’s hair and girdle of skin, is a picture of the prophet Elijah. John’s diet of locusts and wild honey is of the wilderness’s meager offerings.
John met every qualification of “the voice crying in the wilderness” who was prophesied to prepare the people for the coming of Messiah. The people believed he was sent from God and they flocked to him (v. 5).
The Jews knew that God, and God alone, can forgive sin (see Lk. 5:21). They believed that John’s baptism would cleanse them of sin because John was the promised voice of one crying in the wilderness. Their sins were forgiven by God because they believed the word of God and acted upon it. John did not preach that the baptism for the remission of sins was the full answer to sin. John’s message was, “There cometh one mightier than I after me” (v. 7). The one who would follow John would baptize believers with the Holy Ghost. The one who would come after John would be God’s full answer to sin.
“And it came to pass . . .” (v. 9). Jesus of Nazareth came to and was baptized by John. Jesus, who was without sin, came to be baptized by John. The people came to John because they sensed that the coming of the Messiah was near and that they needed one sent from God to make them ready to receive Him. Jesus came to John for a different reason. Jesus was the Messiah. Jesus came to John to fulfill all righteousness (see Matt. 3:15). Mark omits this detail. Mark jumps straight from Jesus’ arrival at the Jordan to the scene following His baptism. As Jesus emerged from the water, the heavens opened and the Spirit descended upon Him. A voice rang out from heaven saying, “Thou art my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (v. 11).
Let’s review the picture which Mark has placed before us. The Son, God manifest in the flesh, submitted Himself to the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins (v. 4) and then the Spirit visibly descended upon Him. This is a picture which is flashed before all who would ever read the words which the Holy Spirit directed Mark to pen.
Excepting Jesus, all who were baptized of John were sin stained before entering the water. Jesus had no sin, yet He was directed by the Father to submit His flesh to cleansing water. If the flesh of Him who was without sin was cleansed before the Spirit descended from heaven to dwell upon Him, how much more must we be cleansed? Those who were cleansed by John’s baptism were cleansed by believing. One knows when one is cleansed because the Spirit descends quickly as a dove.
“And immediately the Spirit driveth him into the wilderness” (v. 12). Jesus was driven into the wilderness to be tempted by Satan. Jesus received the Spirit from God the Father and was then tempted by Satan. That which transpired is like that which befell Adam. The Lord God formed Adam from the dust of the earth and breathed into his nostrils and his flesh was given life (Gen. 2:7). The Lord God then placed Adam in the garden of Eden where he was tempted by Satan (Gen. 2:15, 3:1-6). The two stories have like beginnings but far different endings.
Mark was moved by the Holy Spirit to record these things such that men might follow Christ and receive the gift of life.